LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN. Like Paul, I found the implication that David Brooks chills at truck stops pretty funny. Last time I passed Brooks on the street, he was wearing a pink shirt, not a trucker's cap. But I far prefer Brooks' columns on the true nature of modern life to his columns on the perfidy of Democrats, so we'll call it even. In fact, I'll even give Brooks' some credit, I think he's onto something here, and his column is actually more profound than he gives it credit for.
Brooks' too-stereotypical-to-be-true trucker exists in part as a way for him to channel the conclusions of Michele Lamont's The Dignity of Working Men(In a slight bit of irony, Lamont is a Harvard sociologist who specializes in comparative studies on America and, yes, France, and The Dignity of Working Men is also a comparison between the American and French working classes).
"People in other classes may define the social structure by educational attainment, income levels and job prestige," says Brooks' summary. "But [working class] men are more likely to understand the social hierarchy on the basis of who can look out for themselves, who has the courage to be a fireman, a soldier or a cop, who has the discipline to put bread on the table every night despite difficulties...The trucker I met Saturday in Virginia not only believed in the American Dream, he believed he had achieved it. He owned his own truck. He owned a nice house in Texas on a lake near the Louisiana border. His brother owned five trucks."
That trucker may well have achieved the American Dream. But look at the sources of his dignity: The ability to put food on the table, to retain a job that fulfills him, to keep up payments on a house he loves, to care for his family. In recent years, the overriding obsession of the economic left has been the increasing pressures on this blue collar middle class, which was once composed of manufacturing and union jobs that are increasingly slipping away only to be replaced by less-dignified, less renumerative service sector jobs.
Brooks uses the trucker's attitudes to attack white collar workers -- knowledge workers -- whom have always, in Brooks' work, stood in for liberals. But Brooks' trucker is increasingly anxious, increasingly concerned about his health care, his mortgage, his job security, his ability to put his kid through school. And increasingly, he's realizing that one strain of American political thought is very concerned with the preservation of his economic dignity, and the other is using paeans to his dignity as a substitute for actually addressing the forces that threaten to erode it.